I was reading Ajahn Brahmavamso's book 'The Jhanas' (available freely online) in which he says that the Buddha discovered Jhanas by himself, and what Alara Kalama and Uddakha Ramaputta taught, were not related to jhana.

The reason I am requesting your time is that, there are some teachers in Sri Lanka who claim that Jhanas are a later inclusion, citing the same fact that Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta were able to teach up to the highest immaterial Jhanas, and that a Samma Sambuddha couldn't have lent so heavily on the teaching of others for his own Enlightenment. Thus, they discourage samatha meditation. Fortunately such teachers still emphasize Sati.

Would appreciate your thoughts.

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    It does seem weird that the Bodhisattva leaves home at 29, has time to master the arupa Jhanas in a very short time, abandon them, perform extreme forms of ascetism for 6 years, realize they were useless, then course corrects, gots back to basics he learnt as a toddler, once again rapidly advances to the level he was with Uddhaka Ramaputta and this time goes beyond to attain superme Buddhahood at the young age of 35. Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 17:08
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    Not that weird since the Bodhisatta had perfected all the Jhanas countless times in Sansara. Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 17:40
  • After attaining the highest arupa jhana and thus according to Yuttadhammo Thero, progressing through the 4 rupa jhanas, and then later discarding this the Bodhisatva practices extreme asceticsms for 6 years, and seeing that as futile he considered “I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied,...., I entered upon and abided in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenment?’. How come he didn't recall the more recent arupa Jhanas instead? Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 9:46
  • He lost his jhanic attainments when he tortured himself for 6 years. You can't directly enter to Arupa Jhanas without going through the 1st four. Besides, this time he used the Jhanas to focus on reality unlike in the previous occasions. The following section explains it :"Previously, he had dismissed such meditative states as merely leading to transcendental attainments (i.e. arūpa jhānas). Now, he thought, what if I were to use them for the purpose of developing focused contemplation of reality and enlightenment". Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 10:32
  • Thanks Sankha. I am aware of that. From which text are you quoting from? Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 12:27

5 Answers 5


I quote an excerpt of this answer from Ven. Yuttadhammo. You may read the answer for details.

The orthodox view is that samatha meditation was not discovered by the Buddha and vipassana meditation was.

The orthodox view is that the Bodhisatta cultivated samatha meditation countless times in his past lives before finally discovering vipassana.


Alexander Wynne published a book on history of meditation [1]. On the subject of jhana, he points that a description of the first jhana appears in a Mahābhārata passage "where it is said that for the sage who has the first dhyāna, there is vicāra, vitarka and viveka" -- no descriptions of further jhanas seem to appear.

He argues that it is likely that this passage was borrowed from Buddhism -- and overall, that it is likely there was interchange of knowledge of meditation between both traditions.

Maybe the formula and attainment of 1st jhana were known to ascetics in general. Maybe they could attain it, but had not systematize it (with it's factors and hindrances) and later borrowed the formula from the Buddha. Or maybe the Buddha came up with it on his own. If we trust the reading of the suttas where the Buddha remembers an early experience of jhana, and that this meant no contemporary teacher knew how to attain it, the later might be true.

Now, on formless meditation, Alexander concludes that (paraphrasing):

  • The buddhist list of four formless spheres was inherited from Alara Kalama and Uddakha Ramaputta.
  • Formless meditation is related to element meditation
  • Therefore element meditation was borrowed from the same non-Buddhist source as was formless meditation (eg. from the two teachers)
  • The doctrinal background of element meditation and formless meditation is provided by a list of six dhatu
  • The list is based on early Brahminic cosmogonies
  • Brahminic cosmogonies provide the doctrinal background to meditation in early Brahmanism
  • Therefore, element meditation and formless meditation were borrowed from a brahmanic source
  • The brahmanic source is probably these former teachers (Alara Kalama and Uddakha Ramaputta, Alara Kalama and Rāma, or perhaps the three?).

It might be worth to mention that the first ascetics the Buddha considered teaching after attaining nibbāna were Alara and Uddakha, for they had "little dust in their eyes" [2].

[1] The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, 2007

[2] Ariyapariyesana Sutta


Well-researched question but I find it silly nonetheless. Something like concentration attainment is the cause of everything holistic we have today: acupuncture, chi gong, kundalini activation, etc.

"Jhana practice" = centering oneself on blissful state

  • ther are myriad, infinite ways to achieve this. My teacher said even scratching your ear is a type of jhana!
  • i've read many accounts of the Buddha leaving home and learning from many yogis, many of whom manifested the blisses and powers of dhyana.
  • the buddha also spontaneously entered dhyana on his own as a child

vipassana = practicing pure, naked awareness

  • a crucial practice for self-awakening but is learning to be pure and nakedly aware really a buddhist invention? can buddhism or anything own being purely aware of the present moment?

These are fundamental practices for not just humans but any being.


There are many kinds of samadhi.Jhana is Right Samadhi.The one taught by Siddharta's teachers were not what The Buddha called Right Samadhi. Right Samadhi which is Jhana can only be achieved if one has Right View.Different kind of samadhi can produce rapture bliss calm.But are not Jhana without Right View.Samatha meditation shouldn't be discouraged as it is a part of the Eight Noble Path.Siddharta remembered The First Jhana when he was meditating under extreme conditions.So he could not have been practicing Right Samadhi Jhana at that point.But he was definitely practicing deep samadhi as an astetic.


Prior to the Buddha there were practitioners who practiced higher absolutions. Buddha's contribution was the practice of the right concentration. The right concentration is the concentration while being aware of the reality, i.e., arising and passing of phenomena and characteristics of the phenomena. (Different people and lineages may interpret right concentration differently.)

If Jhana is taken or interpreted in the context of the right type of concentration then it will exclude any other form of absorptions based concentration.

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